Castlecomer Discovery Park stands on the site of what was once part of the Wandesforde Estate, for over 300 years. Originally from Yorkshire, the family were descendants of Christopher Wandesforde who came to Ireland in 1636. Mining in Castlecomer began in the mid 17th Century with the extraction of iron ore. The Wandesforde family were responsible for the opening up of a number of coal seams and over time earned quite a large fortune from coal mining. In 1865, miners started to find strange animal fossils among the coal. William Booking Brownrigg, a scholar, came to examine them and he found something much more significant, the remains of ancient amphibians.
Charles Darwin published his book ‘On the Origin of Species’ in 1859 just 6 years before the discovery of the amphibian fossils near Castlecomer. In it he outlined his theory of the evolution of animals through natural selection. He was strongly criticised by many scientists because he dared to contradict the teachings of the church and it was many years before his teachings were widely accepted.
Castlecomer House, the family home was located on the opposite side of the N78 road. The original house was built in 1638 and was burned down during the Battle of Castlecomer in 1798. A bigger house was built in its place in 1802 during the time of Lady Anne Ormonde. Most of the building was demolished in 1975 as it was no longer in use and had fallen into disrepair. Nothing now remains of the house. The Visitor Centre is located in what was originally the farm yard and kitchen gardens of the estate. The stables and many of the farm buildings have been restored and now house the craft units and the education facilities. The original walled garden is now home to a small herd of Fallow and Sika Deer, a flock of Jacob Sheep, Charlie the hand reared pig and sometimes Arthur the donkey!